Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Covers (2010-09-19)

This is my homily for Sunday 19 September 2010, 25th Sunday for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Readings: Amos 8:4-7 | Psalm 113 | 1 Timothy 2:1-8 | Luke 16:1-13

[__01] Can you judge a book by its cover? Can you judge a book by its cover or by what is inside?

We believe that the inside is what counts, in a book or a person.

In the Gospel, a servant, a steward appears – on the surface – to be doing his job. He is collecting money on behalf of the master, his boss. And, on the surface, he appears to be upright and honest.

This does not mean he is really upright and honest.

In fact, he has been behaving dishonestly and his behavior is noticed. He is caught. The Good News, however, is not that the “criminal” receives mercy, gets an acquittal.

The Good News is the mercy which he receives. The Good News is his willingness to turn his life around. This is the Good News for us that we can turn back to God in repentance and in confession.

And, the Good News is that we are not judged by what is on the cover. We are judge based not onl success or wealth or education. None of these things are bad. However, these do not reflect what exists in our hearts.

[__02] The steward - the servant in this parable -- is called in to the office. And his boss says to him from behind the desk:

“What is this I hear about you …?” (cf. Luke 16:1).

This is similar to the student being called into the office of the principal who says, “what’s going on in class? What is this your teacher is telling me?”

The servant has been caught stealing, caught with his hand, as we say, in the cookie jar. No more cookies for him. And, this is not circumstantial – or external – evidence on the cover. This is the internal reality also.

Surely he faces punishment.

[__03] However, there is a different type of justice, a justice and mercy given to the one who repents who is striving to change his behavior.
Jesus does not condemn the sinner in the Gospel but rather the one who covers up.

Remember what Jesus says about the scribes and the Pharisees, saying that they preach but do not practice:

“They preach but they do not practice .. ‘woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.’” (Matthew 23:3, 13)

The steward of this parable is praised for making the effort to change. He is no hypocrite; he was simply someone who was caught stealing and is now trying to change.
The master does not get even with his servant.

[__04_] This Sunday (September 19), our Catholic Church, in Birmingham, England, Cardinal John Henry Newman is beatified and recognized as “Blessed John Henry Newman” at a Papal Mass in Birmingham, England.

This beatification is the final step before Cardinal Newman would be canonized a saint.

And, John Henry Newman is known as one who examines things beyond the cover, beneath the surface, beyond the appearance ---- in both his academic research and spiritual ministry.

He took a degree from Oxford and went on to teach at Oriel College, Oxford.
Newman also touches on what we can and cannot gain from academic learning.

For example, it is our calling to go to school, and come to church, for that matter. so that we will be changed from the inside out. We are not here – at school or church – to have a more attractive appearance or cover.

However, sometimes, we are tempted to go for the cover, for what is glossy and beautiful.

We also may be tempted to enter certain relationships, entertain certain friendships for what they seem to offer us externally.

That is, I want to be friends with you because you are good looking, because you are amusing, because you are popular. Of course, I would not say these things out loud.

However, I might act this way.

I also might avoid a friendships with someone who invites me to change, who challenges me, who makes me uncomfortable or who is unpopular with others.

Would I judge a book by his cover? By her cover? Maybe.

And, we might do the same in attitude toward education and learning.

Newman writes:

“The danger of an elegant and polite education is that it separates feeling and acting. It teaches us to think, speak and be affected aright [i.e., to feel aright.]”

In other words, our education teaches us to have opinions, to vote on Election Day, to read the newspaper with a critical eye, and to ask questions.

However, does this learning/education change us on the inside, change our actions?

[__05_] The steward of the parable is in for a rude awakening – an education – in the boss’s office, in the principal’s office.

It would appear to be Bad News for him. Game Over. However, this is Good News.
The Good News is that he is willing to give up his profit making -- and -- use his intelligence to give back what he had gained.

Jesus uses exaggeration and hyperbole here also.

The steward surrenders not only his own profit but also bestows what does not belong to him. This may seem unnecessary, even dishonest. Perhaps, he is prolonging the original scandal. What we learn here is that Jesus’s own law and order are not our own. This is a new law & order series.

This new system is described to Samuel the prophet who is seeking the new king of Israel among the sons of Jesse. After interviewing seven sons of Jesse, Samuel is surprised that the Lord does not want any of them. Then, Samuel learns there is one more son, the youngest, the smallest, the nearly forgotten. This is David who is out tending the sheep.

The Lord directs Samuel to avoid judging by the cover, by the appearance and to select David … not despite his weakenss but for a strength no one else sees. This is the Good News that we are not judged by "appearance" or "countenance" or "lofty stature"

Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) [___end___]

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